The 1965-66 League of Ireland season was probably the most compelling one of the 1960s, as well as being a standout season in the history of League of Ireland football as a whole. It was a league campaign of two halves, with Shamrock Rovers impressively winning each of their first 11 matches to open up a six-point advantage at the halfway point, the Hoops defeating Sligo Rovers 3-1 on a snow-covered Milltown pitch to equal the achievement of the northwesterners in their 1936-37 league winning season. To most observers it seemed as if Rovers’ eleventh League of Ireland title would now be little more than a formality, but while the Milltown game had been taking place, Waterford had been defeating Drogheda 3-1 to record their sixth league win in a row and install themselves as the Hoops’ nearest challengers.
In the league’s bottom two for each of the previous two years (they finished bottom in 1965), very little was expected of Waterford for the 1965-66 season, despite the fact that Paddy Coad had now returned for a second stint as manager. The much-travelled Mick Lynch had also returned to Kilcohan Park for a second spell, but while they finished their shield campaign strongly (scoring 21 goals on the way to winning their last five games) they took just four points from their opening five league games, and given their struggles over the last couple of seasons, a top six finish for the Blues would probably have been considered a very good achievement. But while Shamrock Rovers’ winning run (and an unbeaten home league record stretching back to February 1963) was being ended by third-placed Bohemians at Milltown, Waterford were registering their seventh consecutive league win, and when a Mick Lynch goal gave them both points at Dalymount Park the following Sunday, the scene was well and truly set for their visit to Milltown to tackle the leaders.
Crowd trouble had erupted at the end of the Kilcohan Park meeting of the sides earlier in the league (Rovers won 4-3 with the help of a hotly-disputed penalty and the referee needed the help of the gardaí to escape the stadium), but a record Glenmalure Park crowd of almost 25,000 were on their best behaviour for this all-important return match. An Al Casey goal in the 39th minute gave the spoils to Waterford and brought them to within a point of their rivals, and among other things, the Blues were now just two games away from winning 11 on the trot themselves. Victories over Drumcondra and Dundalk in the next two outings meant that they did just that. Having been runners-up on four previous occasions, Blues fans began believing that this finally might be their year, and when Cork Hibernians and Sligo were beaten to bring the winning run to an incredible 13, the championship appeared to be Waterford’s to lose. Despite drawing their next two league games (they thus fell short of Bohemians’ run of 15 straight wins from the 1923-24 season), and losing an F.A.I. Cup semi-final replay to Shamrock Rovers, the title was closed out with wins in their last two matches, a last day victory at Drogheda giving them the championship with two points to spare (they had taken 21 points from 22 away from home).The celebrations that the victory triggered on Suirside had only ever been matched by those that greeted the Waterford hurlers following their All-Ireland victories in 1948 and 1959.
Waterford had gradually been adding to their squad as the league campaign progressed, and the players that Paddy Coad brought in all played their part in the Blues’ success. Waterford native John O’Neill had re-joined in November from champions Drumcondra, before wing-half Jimmy McGeough was recruited for a fee of £3,000 from Derry City. After a slow start, McGeough’s midfield partnership with Vinny Maguire eventually became pivotal, and it was the Belfast native who supplied the cross for Al Casey’s winning goal at Milltown. In March, an English winger by the name of Johnny Matthews joined Waterford from Coventry City, and it was Matthews who scored the only goal at the Sligo Showgrounds to give the Blues their 13th league win in a row. Mick Lynch finished as outright top scorer on the way to winning his first ever League of Ireland medal, and Paddy Coad’s much younger brother Shamie was also in scoring form, his versatility having helped him to establish himself as the club’s key player during the previous number of seasons.
League of Ireland attendances in the 1960s had dipped considerably compared to the previous decade, but the exciting events of the first few months of 1966 allowed this trend to be bucked somewhat, at least temporarily. When Shamrock Rovers faced Bohemians with the aim of winning their 12th league game from 12, a record “gate” of over £1,300 was paid at the Milltown turnstiles, and those who were there were treated to one of the best League of Ireland matches for years, with Bohs eventually winning 3-2 to bring their rivals’ winning run to an end. There was an even bigger crowd at Dalymount for the visit of Waterford the following week, and when the Blues then faced Rovers at Milltown, several thousand were unable to gain entry. The cup semi-finals between Shamrock Rovers and Waterford also attracted bumper crowds, with 25,000 at Dalymount to see the Hoops progress to the final on a 4-2 scoreline.
Rovers had required replays in the two previous rounds as well, and found last season’s opponents, Limerick, waiting for them in the final. The Hoops would be without Liam Tuohy for the decider but second-half goals from Tony O’Connell and Frank O’Neill gave them their third ‘blue riband’ success in a row. The Hoops had earlier won their fourth League of Ireland Shield in succession (the second time they had achieved this feat) but it came at a cost, with a serious knee injury sustained by Jackie Mooney in a shield game against Shelbourne resulting in the Republic of Ireland international being on the sidelines for the next two years. Bobby Gilbert was brought in from Derry City, however, and finished as the club’s top scorer, with two goals coming in a 3-0 win over Bohemians in a Top Four Cup final second replay. The Hoops had also ran eventual runners-up, Zaragoza, very close in this season’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, holding on until a 78th minute winner for the Spanish side in the second leg.
Limerick had reached the final in spite of a little bit of disruption, caused by the unavailability of the Market’s Field for their cup run. The ground’s owners, Limerick Greyhound Racing Company, had initiated some renovations and though the club were able to remain there for league games, they had to play two ‘home’ F.A.I. Cup matches at Thomond Park and Dalymount Park. Limerick’s European Cup Winners’ Cup game against CSKA Sofia had also taken place at Dalymount, but the match ended up being delayed for 24 hours due to fog, resulting in a wasted journey for about 800 Limerick fans (ironically, there was no fog over Limerick on the same night). A crowd of 11,000 were then present on the Thursday evening to see Ewan Fenton’s men fall to a rather unlucky 2-1 defeat.
As well as achieving another third-placed finish in the league, the Bohemians revival under Sean Thomas also saw them win some silverware this season for the first time in almost 20 years. The Gypsies came from 2-0 down to beat Shamrock Rovers 3-2 in a replayed L.F.A. President’s Cup final (this competition had been expanded to a six-team knockout format the previous season), before overcoming Shelbourne by the same scoreline in the final of the Leinster Senior Cup. Wing-half Jimmy Conway (one of the young players that had been recruited from Stella Maris) had emerged as the team’s key player, and his excellent performances saw him attract the attention of several cross-channel clubs. Fulham won the race for his signature at the end of the season, and the London club decided to add Turlough O’Connor to the ticket as well. The duo’s last game for Bohs was the first of the two drawn Top Four Cup finals against Shamrock Rovers, with both players scoring in the 3-3 draw at Dalymount Park.
Goals from Pat O’Callaghan, Tony Allen and one of the Gosnell twins helped Cork Hibernians beat Dundalk 3-2 in the final of the Dublin City Cup to secure their first national honour. On the whole, however, it was probably a season to forget for the two Leeside-based League of Ireland clubs, as both Hibernians (who took just one point from their first 10 games) and Celtic spent the season hovering near the foot of the table and Celtic eventually had to apply for re-election. A thrilling January derby (one of the best ever) between the clubs saw Celtic score two late goals to win 4-3 and provide their supporters with a rare high point for the season. At the end of the campaign, Austin Noonan’s departure from Celtic to Hibernians saw his prolific strike partnership with Donal Leahy finally come to an end. The pair had scored 267 league goals between them over the course of the previous 11 seasons, and while neither player had ever had any trouble in gaining the attention of the inter-league selectors, Noonan and Leahy were to be denied the opportunity to appear for the Republic of Ireland. Leahy’s non-appearance for the national side was seen as a particular injustice (his seven goals in 17 League of Ireland XI appearances is a record), and this was especially so when one considers that he was called up to the Irish international squad on a number of occasions.
After their gradual introduction into other competitions during recent seasons, 1965-66 finally saw substitutions being allowed in League of Ireland championship matches. As it turned out, the law was introduced very hastily, with a broken leg sustained by Drumcondra’s Jimmy Morrissey proving to be the final straw. The substitute / twelfth man had to be nominated in advance and could enter in place of an injured player at any stage of the contest. Although the first weekend didn’t see any substitution being made, a match at The Showgrounds on the 27th of February saw St. Patrick’s Athletic’s Des Downey coming on for an injured Noel Bates after 21 minutes of the second half. In a peculiar twist, Sligo Rovers managed to score while their opponents were still readying their replacement player.
The floodgates soon opened and there were many uses of the substitute rule before the end of the season. Waterford’s Peter Fitzgerald (who had recently returned after a few months out injured) became the first substitute to score in a League of Ireland match when he gave the champions-elect a 1-0 win over Cork Celtic at Turner’s Cross. The lack of a substitute rule had previously thrown up some ridiculous situations, with injured players often staying on the pitch (they were usually put out on the wing) despite being of no real benefit to their team. The practice also raised player welfare concerns, but occasionally / ironically, a badly injured player might end up making a telling contribution, such as Mick Rice scoring in the P.J. Casey Cup final in 1962, or Ben O’Sullivan scoring the winner for Bohs in this season’s five-goal thriller at Milltown. However, substitutions were not yet common in other leagues throughout Europe, with 1965-66 being the first English league season to feature them, and UEFA proving very slow to introduce them into their competitions. In Spain, the first substitution in La Liga would not happen until 1969.
League of Ireland 1965-66
|St. Patrick’s Athletic||22||9||2||11||35||43||20|
European Competition : European Cup First Round, Drumcondra 1-0 ASK Vorwärts Berlin (East Germany), ASK Vorwärts Berlin 3-0 Drumcondra European Cup Winners’ Cup First Round (first leg at Dalymount Park), Limerick 1-2 CSKA Sofia, CSKA Sofia 2-0 Limerick Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Second Round (Rovers received a bye to this stage, first leg at Dalymount Park), Shamrock Rovers 1-1 Real Zaragoza, Real Zaragoza 2-1 Shamrock Rovers
League top scorers : Mick Lynch Waterford, 17 Shamie Coad Waterford, 14 Bobby Gilbert Shamrock Rovers, 14 Liam Tuohy Shamrock Rovers, 14
S.W.A.I. Personality of the Year : Liam Tuohy, Shamrock Rovers player-manager
Representative match : English League 5-0 League of Ireland